Muinicipal personnel sharing going well for Caribou, Star City public works departments

11 years ago

By Jeremy Boulier
Special to the Aroostook Republican

    CARIBOU/PRESQUE ISLE — Approximately three weeks ago, Caribou Public Works Director Dave Ouellette began his new dual role. While still maintaining his position with Caribou, Ouellette assumed the responsibilities for the same position in Presque Isle.
    No definitive timeline was planned at the beginning of this personnel-sharing venture, though Ouellette anticipated serving the Presque Isle role through the winter months.
    Ouellette said that the position may be temporary or may eventually turn into a long term endeavor, it depends on the needs of both towns. He mentioned that even if Presque Isle is able to eventually fill the position, he still has his position in Caribou.

    The decision to share resources began in early August when the two city councils met to discuss possible ways to save money, where ideas such as sharing equipment were suggested. A few weeks later, Deputy Director of Public Works in Presque Isle Larry DeMerchant announced his resignation and after further discussion, the idea to share a public works director began.
    According to Ouellette, this marks the first town official to be shared between the two communities.
    “Financially this arrangement makes sense for both communities. It spreads the cost of a public works director over two communities. That of course benefits the tax payers of both communities,” said Caribou City Manager Austin Bleess in an email interview.
    Presque Isle has been advertising the Deputy Director of Public Works position for approximately a month, at the time of publication. Once a viable candidate is found, he or she will train under Ouellette and gradually assume more responsibilities over time, according to Ouellette.
    Eventually, Ouellette foresees that he will have more time to share equally between the two towns or possibly hand the reigns over to the Deputy.
    Deputy director of public works is one of two positions currently being advertised by the city of Presque Isle, with the other advertised position being a public works director — the position Ouellette is currently occupying.
     Prior to testing the waters of personnel sharing between the two cities, Presque Isle’s public works endeavors were under the management of current Director of Public Services Division Dana Fowler. According to Presque Isle city officials, Fowler’s position is still responsible for overseeing the solid waste department but instead of managing the public works departments as previous, Fowler now works with the acting public works director (Ouellette) when needed for assistance.
    Officials explained that as the city is exploring the concept of personnel sharing, the public works director position will remain advertised until a conclusive decision can be reached as to whether the arrangement is mutually beneficial for Caribou and Presque Isle.
    The Public Works Director position manages the budgets for the department, keeps projects on target, and is responsible for the safety and well-being of employees in addition to surveying road conditions and underground infrastructure except sewers. In the winter months, the Director coordinates and directs the team of snowplow drivers and keeps track of snow conditions on the roads.
    Though the warmer months aren’t as busy, things such as construction and pavement projects take place. Each of the towns has a Public Works Director; however the second in command title differs: in Presque Isle the title is Deputy Director of Public Works, while in Caribou the position is titled a Highway Foreman or Road Supervisor, according to Ouellette.
    Currently, Ouellette is fulfilling the roles of Public Works Director in both towns, and Deputy Director in Presque Isle. Caribou currently has a Road Supervisor who has been able to meet the increased work load due to Ouellette’s time spent mostly in Presque Isle. Due to the lack of a Deputy Director in Presque Isle, Ouellette has been spending more time there to help the department as they wait for a replacement for the Deputy position. When asked on the status of the sharing, Ouellette said that it’s “going very well” and that he has not heard any negativity from either side up to this point. When asked about the differences between the two towns, Ouellette said that Presque Isle is much busier in regards to traffic than Caribou. Also, after studying the layouts of both towns, Ouellette concluded that Presque Isle has more “in town” roads than Caribou; however, Caribou in turn has more roads in the country than Presque Isle.
    Born and raised in Caribou, Ouellette has worked in the Public Works Department for 15 years, with the first seven as a mechanic and the remaining eight as a Public Works Director. Prior to that, his background and experience was heavy in the automotive field having been certified in Automotive Service Excellence and working on and selling cars.
    When asked about being chosen for the position, Ouellette was very humble in his reply: “I’m very pleased to have the opportunity to work in Presque Isle. [I was] kind of honored they asked me; that’s a positive thing for me.”